Photo via Austin Surreal
Abe Beame is always cooking up something marvelous.
What a difference a year and two critically acclaimed mixtapes make. Last June, Big K.R.I.T. had some buzz going — but not enough to save him from famously being booed off stage for attempting to perform “Country Shit” at a Jay Electronica/Joell Ortiz show in Chelsea. But last night, he and Freddie Gibbs sold out South Paw in Park Slope. By the time I got off work it was 11:00 p.m. and even with a ticket, I had to wait outside for 15 minutes because the venue was at capacity. When I got in, Gibbs was onstage in full Tupac mode, shirtless and growling through a no frills, hard-as-nails set. As a performer, Gibbs exudes little of the sarcastic humor that makes him so engaging as an interview, but it doesn’t matter. By the time Gibbs graced us with an encore of his “The Ghetto” over Milkbone’s “Keep it Real,” the typical BK crowd (Pratt and E. New York equally represented) was lathered into a Pabst-fueled frenzy.
On stage, K.R.I.T. and Gibbs couldn’t be further apart. The former’s show is a smoothly run highlight reel filled with well-crafted, conversational interludes leading from one song to the next. Even as he rips through his hardest material, an appreciative grin is never far from his face. He’s a slightly spastic, high energy performer, one who won the crowd with Return of 4eva standout “Dreamin.’” By the time he arrived at “Hometown Hero,” he had them rapping along and eating out of the palm of his hand.
While the differences are stark between K.R.I.T. and Gibbs, it’s their similarities that shed an interesting light on this show, and the current state of live Hip Hop in New York. Early in their respective careers, both rappers exhibit flawless diction and breath control, and general polish that suggest years of experience that neither have. They are rap nerds who trade in a scholarly brand of Southern Rap free of any particular region. They’re a major label smash short of putting this same show on at Madison Square Garden, but what struck me is that there’s no way this show would’ve happened five years ago. As a lifelong attendee of Hip Hop in the Tri State area, something I’ve found particularly frustrating is the lack of diversity in the offerings. There are entire genres of rappers who in the past would rarely even bother stopping in New York when touring, possibly due to the kind of reception K.R.I.T. received when he came through last summer. Perhaps a silver lining surrounding the irrelevance of New York on the national Hip Hop scene will be the democratization of our local Hip Hop.. As the raucous crowd in Park Slope pointed at the stage in rhythm and shouted “Country Shit!” at a smiling Big K.R.I.T., it was difficult not to interpret it that way.